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Leiter's stuff sharp as he vies for rotation

Splitter highlights effective arsenal that resulted in 5 K's Wednesday afternoon
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- It seemed to Gabe Kapler that the Blue Jays expected Mark Leiter to throw his splitter Wednesday afternoon in a Grapefruit League game at Dunedin Stadium. They could not stop themselves from swinging at it.

"That's the sign of a really good pitch," the Phillies' manager said after the 7-1 loss. "I don't know how much attention you've paid to vintage, in-his-prime Joel Peralta, but starting to see some similarities there, both in the tenacity and the smarts, the watching hitters and the execution of pitches." 

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- It seemed to Gabe Kapler that the Blue Jays expected Mark Leiter to throw his splitter Wednesday afternoon in a Grapefruit League game at Dunedin Stadium. They could not stop themselves from swinging at it.

"That's the sign of a really good pitch," the Phillies' manager said after the 7-1 loss. "I don't know how much attention you've paid to vintage, in-his-prime Joel Peralta, but starting to see some similarities there, both in the tenacity and the smarts, the watching hitters and the execution of pitches." 

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Leiter, 26, struck out five batters in two scoreless innings in a wildly successful and efficient appearance. He threw just 24 pitches. Leiter, who has allowed just three hits and struck out seven in four scoreless innings this spring, is one of a handful of candidates competing for a job in the Phillies rotation. If he does not land there, he is an excellent candidate to make the bullpen.

"It's out of my control," Leiter said. "So my job is just to try to make the team in any way they see for me to make the team. If they see me as a reliever, then I'll try to be the best reliever I can be. If they see me as a starter, I'll try to be the best starter. If it's going back and forth like last year, I'll use my experience from doing it to continue to build off what went well."

Back to Leiter's splitter. It is a weapon. Opponents hit just .193 against it last season. They swung and missed 20 percent of the time.

Mix that pitch with a variety of other pitches, and it is easy to see why Leiter is an intriguing option for the coaching staff and front office.

"He can execute them all for strikes," Kapler said. "They're not like pitches he's tinkering with. No one-trick pony. Incredibly competitive. In some ways you say, 'I wish we could plug that mentality into position players' because he's so fiery and tenacious. He's such a pleasure."

Vinny Velo
Vince Velasquez struck out two batters on 95-mph fastballs in the first inning before allowing two hits and three runs in the second. Velasquez left the start upbeat.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"Very happy," he said. "My secondary pitches were working. They were well locating, putting them where I wanted."

Said Kapler: "He was absolutely electric. I got feedback from people you wouldn't expect to give me feedback on what that was looking like coming out of his hand. It was, 'Wow.' And some of the changeups were falling off the table good.

"He had a little cut on his fastball [in the second]. I think that was playing into it. Not too concerned about it. Some of the contact was up in the air, which, when you ask guys to pitch up in the zone, you're going to see some of that."

Video: Velasquez pleased with feel, health after start

Camp battles
Right-hander Jake Thompson allowed two hits and two unearned runs in one inning. He has allowed two hits, three unearned runs, one walk and has struck out three in two innings this spring.

Typically, pitchers competing for rotation jobs are being stretched out early in camp. It seems like Thompson is not, but Kapler said nothing should be read into that.

But could he be a bullpen candidate?

"I mean, sure," he said. "But there's a handful of guys that could be. I wouldn't single him out as a candidate for a bullpen role when we have five guys that could profile as a starter or reliever. That's up to you. I'm just saying I personally wouldn't read into that."

Injury report
Phillies prospect J.D. Hammer has not thrown a pitch in Spring Training but the team said he is not injured.

The Phillies said they are taking things slowly with Hammer because of his workload last year, when he threw a combined 71 1/3 innings in the Rockies' and Phillies' farm systems, and the Arizona Fall League. There is a chance Hammer might not pitch at all in big league camp, but the Phillies consider his time in Spring Training a good experience.

Hammer could begin throwing in a week or two.

No other pitchers are limited in camp, and there were no other injuries to note other than infielder Will Middlebrooks, who is recovering from a fractured fibula sustained in Friday's opener.

Up next
Right-hander Nick Pivetta faces the Yankees on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET in a Grapefruit League game against the Yankees at Spectrum Field. Watch the game live on MLB Network or MLB.TV.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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